We all know that I love kettlebells, and yes I am that dude in the gym that is doing endless rounds of clean and jerks and snatches. I can go on all day talking about how great kettlebells are, and I do love barbell work and conditioning work, but kettlebells are my jam! So here are 5 benefits to training with kettlebells…I will just save the other 95 reasons for another article!
- Grip strength! Your grip is usually the weak link in the chain, rowing, double unders, farmer carry, deadlift, Olympic work, pull ups, toes to bar, deadlifts, they all require grip strength and it is always grip strength that breaks down before anything else does. Training with kettlebells will improve your grip strength, guaranteed! But there is a trick to this and it is in how you grip the kettlebell, fingers only! If you are doing swings or snatches or cleans with the kettlebell, chances are you’ve torn the middle of your hand, or the meat up where you skin folds and bunches up where your palm meets your fingers, the trick to not tearing your hands is by grabbing the handle with your fingers and then closing your thumb. Also, not death gripping, holding on just enough to not let it fly out of your hands. Here is a video I did a couple years back at our old location talking about common problems with swings and snatches, in the video around the 6:00 mark I discuss grip technique and using your fingers (hook grip)…
- Hard ass. No you won’t become a hard ass! Kettlebells won’t make you mean. And no you won’t get the type of hard ass you get from riding a bike for an hour. No, you will get a dense, firm, butt! Muscle density comes from doing lots of reps with an appropriate weight, this is the secret that bodybuilders have used for decades, using a submaximal weight…a medium-heavy weight you can use for more than 15 reps…this helps build dense muscle…not big muscle…but dense and firm. Muscle density is also key to burning fat 24 hours a day. High rep swings and squats and lunges and snatches and jerks with a kettlebell will get you dense firm muscle that keeps it’s shape even if you have to skip the gym for a week while you go on vacation.
- Mobility. Most of us sit at a desk banging on a keyboard…like I am doing right now. This posture causes our shoulders to round forward, our spine and neck to get lazy, and it causes tightness in our upper backs which is what prevents you from being able to do overhead squats. Working with kettlebells, whether single arm or two arms, helps to loosen up that upper back and shoulder tightness. I know some of you out there, like some of my own clients, try to avoid kettlebell workouts at all costs, solely for the fact that they have poor mobility and they struggle with putting a kettlebell overhead because it is difficult and uncomfortable and especially with guys who feel stronger on a barbell sometimes their ego can’t handle using light weight kettlebells. But avoiding the exercise just because it is difficult and not easy and you can’t do as much weight as other people who may be not as strong as you but have better mobility, well that means you should probably be doing it more instead of avoiding it! Go light and work on the movement pattern and the mobility, stay dedicated and your mobility will improve I promise!
- You can work all the zones with kettlebells! Doing work in all the heart rate zones will increase your cardio capacity. Working with a sub-maximal weight for high reps will improve your cardio output and capacity, whether it is heavier for low reps or lighter weight for longer timed sessions. Working in the 60%-80% zone will improve the strength of your heart, that long slow cardio is great at lowering your resting heart rate, but so is working in the 80%-90% zone, and you need both. If you are a long distance athlete, doing sprint work with heavier weight for low reps will help you with your long slow cardio, and on the flip side, if you are more of a sprint style athlete then doing longer sets on a lighter weight kettlebell will help keep your heart strong and may increase your max heart rate threshold. Working with kettlebells allows you to work the lower zones and the upper zones.
- Overhead stability. The shoulder joint is unlike any other joint in the body, while it is a ball and socket like the hip, it is not an encapsulated ball and socket like the hip, and it is not “stacked” like how your pelvis and hips are stacked on top of your femurs, this allows your hips and legs to carry massive amounts of weight several times your body weight. The shoulder joint while being a ball and socket, your humerus floats on the side of the shoulder socket, which is part of your shoulder blade, which floats on top of the rib cage, it is not meant to hold weight overhead because it is not “stacked” like your hips and legs. If you are doing gymnastics style workouts where you are going inverted for handstands, you are treating your shoulders like they are your hips when they are not meant for that, working with kettlebells overhead will help increase your body and muscle ability to hold your bodyweight while inverted. Also, when you are putting a barbell overhead, you cannot turn your hands or elbows into an external rotation position (think of pointing your thumbs backwards), your shoulders will eventually tighten up and it will be difficult to ever get into that external rotation with or without weight or while you are inverted. Training with kettlebells will allow you to get that thumb turned backwards and get into a healthy and safe external rotation position.
Alright, I said five reasons, but I will give you one more as a bonus!
6. If deadlifts on a barbell cause you back pain, try deadlifts on one or two kettlebells! A lot of people lack the ankle and hip mobility to get into a proper lifting position at the bottom of their deadlift, this is due to the bar being forward of the shins, using a wider stance and one or two kettlebells between the legs, allows you to hold the weight centered with your balance in the middle of the foot and a more upright posture and a safer back position. This also allows you to use more glute activation to standup and lockout the legs. If you are someone who tends tip forward on deadlifts and you always get lower back pain because you can’t pull in an upright position, use a kettlebell instead of a bar!